A Wireless Superbowl

By Joseph Schwartz

Imagine this: You are a coach standing on the sidelines here on Superbowl Sunday.The crowd packed around you exceeds the population of many cities--and most of the fans are yelling and cheering at the top of their lungs.

You need to yell some instructions to the quarterback.Good luck.

This is the sort of situation that led Cincinnati coach Paul Brown to devise helmet radios for quarterbacks during the 1950s.Wireless technology has come a long way since then.It has integrated itself into professional football in a manner that improves communication between coaches, players and referees without detracting from the game's tradition.

When the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Giants face off at Super Bowl XXXV this Sunday, the players, the coaches, and millions of fans will benefit from the seamless integration of traditional football and the latest wireless communication technology.Wireless technology will improve communication between coaches and their quarterbacks.It will speed coaches' requests for replays in the cases of disputed calls while it decreases the potential for miscommunications between coaches, players and officials.

On Sunday, the lion's share of wireless technology at Super Bowl XXXV will be provided by Motorola, which as been the official wireless communications sponsor for the 32 teams in the National Football League since 1999. Among the most important innovations are wireless receivers that are built into the quarterback's helmets.

Despite the glamour of the Superbowl, most of the equipment that will be used by coaches and referees will be adaptations of the same products that are available on the consumer market today, according to Dave Weisz, director of Global Sports and Events Marketing at Motorola.For example, the coaches transmit encrypted instructions to quarterbacks using Motorola's GP350 radios, which are often used by police, airport security, plus construction and hospitality businesses.Coaches will also have HT750 radios for sending messages referees and to request instant replays of disputed calls.Referees will receive messages, such as a coach's challenge to a call, via Motorola LS350 pagers.

"An event this big couldn't be done without wireless communications," Weisz says.Weisz estimates that between the teams, the NFL officials, the stadium personnel and the media, there will be more than 1,000 Motorola pagers, radios and cell phones used to produce this event.And the interesting thing is, most fans will enjoy the game from their seats or from their living rooms without even noticing the technology.

Parallel Evolution

Just as wireless communications gradually became an integral fact of life for businesses and consumers, the NFL gradually adopted this technology for its players, coaches and staff.Prior to the NFL's wireless era, coaches would use time outs to provide instructions to quarterbacks during a game.They also had the option of yelling instructions to quarterbacks, but those instructions could be heard by members of both teams--if they could be heard at all above the crowds.

Helmet radios that NFL quarterbacks use today can trace their ancestry to the 1950s, when Cleveland coach Paul Brown developed a helmet receiver.The wireless era for the NFL accelerated during the late 1970s, when the league allowed coaches to use headsets that enabled them to move up and down the sidelines as they communicated with players.By the mid-1980s, the NFL began experimenting with a totally wireless helmet receiver system that allowed coaches to provide one-way instructions to quarterbacks.In 1985, the NFL allowed coaches to use this sideline-to-helmet system in pre-season games; in 1994, it was allowed for the entire season.

Today, players and fans benefit from more accurate communication between coaches and quarterbacks.Delays in the games are minimized as communications between coaches and referees are sped up.For example, a coach can request an instant replay simply by pushing a button on an HT750 radio."It expedites the game," Weisz says."Anytime you can expedite the game, the players and fans benefit.Wireless technology enhances the team's capabilities to perform at an even greater level.A lot of information is being shared between the coaches box to the field and back and forth."

Future Developments

Wireless developments will continue in professional football, both on and off the field, Weisz predicts.The technology is here today to provide video on wireless handheld devices that would enable coaches to instantly review plays.Fans can order food from a wireless device without leaving their seats.

Unlike the highly competitive business sector, the NFL's integration of wireless technology will be adopted in a manner that improves communications without giving one team an edge over another--and without detracting from the game itself.According to Weisz, the important issue is that wireless communication be adopted in a way that fans can enjoy the game without even noticing the technology.For more information about the NFL and Superbowl XXXV, visit: www.nfl.com.More information about Motorola products is available at: www.motorola.com

Published Monday, January 29th, 2001

Written by Joseph Schwartz

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